Program evaluation

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Program evaluation in outdoor education, adventure education, & other experiential intervention programs


Starting points

Why program evaluation?

It has become increasingly important for outdoor and experiential education organisations to demonstrate effectiveness in achieving stated objectives. Exploring and examining program achievement of goals is commonly referred to as "program evaluation".

Conducting program evaluation does not guarantee the quality of a program, but high quality programs are more likely to be engaged in program evaluation.

Systemtically assessing achievement of program goals might be motivated by necessity (you have to) or morality (because you want to and it's good to) - or anywhere inbetween.

Necessity - Because you have to!

State, federal and even private funding for intervention programs increasingly requires rigorous program evaluations to be conducted. Thus, conducting program evaluations is becoming a necessity for many programs.

Morality - Because you want to and it's good to!

There is also a moral argument that it is an ethical responsibility of those who design and conduct intervention programs to be rigorous in ensuring the best possible experiences are provided for participants. Just as with safety, for which an outdoor organization is expected to provide best-practice risk management, there is a responsibility for facilitating high quality psycho-educational experiences for participants. Conducting systematic program evaluation and engaging in peer-reviewed research evaluation can help to better understand the program processes, participant experiences and outcomes for both internal feedback and external sharing and reviewing.

Other motives

Several other motivations for research and evaluation could exist (e.g., see 7 stage hierarchy), but necessity (external motivation) and morality (internal motivation) represent two ends of a motivational spectrum for efforts (and non-efforts) to utilise program evaluation.

Common practices in program evaluation


Recommended resources


Gass, M., & Neill, J. T. (2001). Introduction to program evaluation. Presentation to the 29th Annual International Conference of the Association for Experiential Education, 2 November.

Greenaway, R. Evaluation of training/learning books & reviews. Active Reviewing.

Hendricks, B. (no date). Improving evaluation in experiential education. ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools.

Neill, J. T. (2010). Program evaluation and outdoor education: An overview. Presentation to the 16th National Outdoor Education Conference, Notre Dame University, Fremantle, Western Australia, January 10-13.

Priest, S. (2001). A program evaluation primer. Journal of Experiential Education, 24(1), 34-40.

Watters, R. (1988). Benefit cost analysis of non-commercial outdoor programs. In Proceedings of the 1986 Conference on Outdoor Recreation.

Watters, R. (1991). Cost benefit analysis of recreation programs for the disabled. Idaho State University Outdoor Program, Pocatello, ID.

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